Review of Through Lines in Border Crossings 149

Hi folks,

I just wanted to write a short post to reflect on my review of Through Lines, a group exhibition presented by Koffler Gallery and Critical Distance Centre for Curators last fall. The review is featured in the “Crossovers” section of the most recent issue of Border Crossings, which is now available both in print and online, here.

I don’t have too much to say about the review, but I did want to thank the editors of Border Crossings for accepting my pitch. I visited the exhibition several times last year, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Perhaps more importantly, though, the exhibition’s central theme of redaction gave me a chance to try applying some of my PhD research on erasure to a different artistic genre and a different mode of writing. I’d like to say the experiment was successful, but in any case, I am grateful for the opportunity to carry it out.

Of course, publishing in a magazine like Border Crossings is also huge step toward expanding my art writing portfolio, which I hope to continue developing over the coming months and years. Hopefully you’ll see more writing like this from me soon. Until then, happy reading!

 

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Review of JC Bouchard’s Borderline Definitions

Hi folks,

I just found out yesterday (from a friend’s very kind email, in fact) that my review of JC Bouchard’s Borderline Definitions has just been posted on The Town Crier! Many thanks to Jason Freure and the other folks at the bloggy appendage for working to make this as strong a piece as it could be–and, of course, for putting it out into the world.

The piece isn’t so much a book review, actually, as a reflection on the launch event and the too much time I’ve spent at dark, loud Toronto readings with JC and the rest of the scene’s tireless regulars. I’ll let the rest of the review speak for itself, but now that I’m on my own blog, I wanted to add a footnote that ended up being cut from the final piece. In short, this is at once my gesture to the people who make this scene memorable to me, and my apology for not gesturing to them more directly:

Though I considered naming some of the many folks who have made this community so vibrant and impactful, I realized that there are simply too many, and that any decisions about who to include or exclude would only reflect a kind of hierarchization (not to mention bias) that simply doesn’t fit. Instead, I hope their honour will be served by my attempts to articulate the soul of the community they built and continue to build.

And that’s that. If you’re a friend who knows these readings well, I hope you’ll forgive me. If you’re a reader, happy reading!

 

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Emerging Arts Critics programme update

Hi all,

Toward the end of last year I wrote an extensive post about the Emerging Arts Critics programme and my participation in it, and I’d like to start by referring you there if you haven’t read it.

Just last night I attended the final performance of the 2018/2019 programme, The National Ballet of Canada’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And just this morning, my concert report on the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of Shostakovich, Langgaard, and Bartók–which is also my final contribution to the programme–was posted on The WholeNote’s website. I’d really like to thank the WholeNote staff for making the piece what it is, considering my relative naivety when it comes to classical music. I’d also like to thank them for coming up with an excellent headline for the piece–you don’t even want to know what the old one was.

Overall, this seasons’ programme has been a wonderful experience. I’ve become even closer with my fellow reviewers since last fall, and I’m already looking forward to staying connected with them in the future. I also can’t help but reflect on how much I’ve learned from the editors and mentors the programme put me in touch with. It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve had such experienced and insightful eyes take a good, hard look at my writing, and the past several months have reminded me how crucial that kind of feedback is. All in all, I couldn’t be happier with the program; this is what I love about being a writer.

If you have any interest in opera, ballet, or classical music, I hope you can get something out of it, too. And, as always, happy reading!

 

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Print Run of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection

Hi everyone!

I’ve written before about The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection, a multi-year conceptual/visual/appropriation poetry (?) project that was also the first subject of my Instagram feed. Now that it’s been through a few iterations, I’ve decided to return to some earlier ideas for extending the project and do a print run of complete, 142-page copies. While I had the opportunity to print some mock-ups of the book some years ago (hence the photo below), this time around I’m making enough for distribution–albeit a rather limited distribution, since this is conceptual poetry, after all!

Details remain TBD, but most of the print run, I think, will go toward a guerrilla art distribution campaign with the goal of seeding Toronto’s literary landscape with a healthy does of these intricately confounding psycho-analytic book objects. However, I also want to take this chance to make sure that anyone who wants a copy for themselves gets one, since I doubt they will ever be printed again. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a few interested book fetishists contribute some financial backing to the print run (which is coming out of my own pocket, by the way).

So here’s the deal: for $20 (CAD) plus the cost of shipping, I’ll reserve you a copy of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection and send it your way as soon as soon as they come off the press. Since I have no long-term book-selling plans, the transaction will be somewhat informal, but please don’t hesitate to email me at j.m.nyman2@gmail.com to reserve your book or ask me any questions. I’m friendly, I promise!

What’s most important on my end is that anyone who wants a copy lets me know as soon as possible, so I can make sure I print enough! If you don’t reserve yours, I might still have some leftovers later on, or you might be lucky enough to find one washed up at a used bookstore or library…but I can’t guarantee it!

 

 

While the full printing has yet to take place, I’ve just confirmed that I’ll be doing the print run with the Toronto Public Library’s Asquith Press, which is, in effect, a giant contraption (pictured below) called an Espresso Book Machine. I got to see the machine in action when I printed the mock-ups, and it is pretty amazing: basically, it completes the entire task of printing, trimming, and binding paperback books within a single, fully-automated process, complete with robot arms and hot glue. The folks at the reference library’s digital innovation hub charge quite modest fees to print books with it, especially if your print run is small, so I would definitely recommend it to any aspiring book-with-a-spine-makers.

 

 

As you might expect, I’m pretty excited to start this thing running. Until then, happy (non-)reading!

 

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Two Houseplants, from above nanopamphlet

Hi everyone,

They’re here! I’ve been waiting for my batch of nanopamphlets to arrive in the mail from Penteract Press over in the UK, and I was delighted to find this bundle waiting in my mailbox (along with a few samples of the press’s many other visual, formal, and constrained poetic projects). Two Houseplants, from above is what the press terms a “nanopamphlet” (which means it’s really tiny) containing two small pieces from a series of visual poems depicting my houseplants, from above. I’ve been working on the series for a long time, but it’s incredibly refreshing to see it materialize in such a beautiful and well-thought-out form. My sincere thanks go out to Penteract for accepting the piece–and doing wonders with it.

 

 

 

 

I only found out about Penteract rather recently, and I’m actually a little sad to hear that they’re transitioning into a small press from a micropress–mostly because it means they’ll no longer be publishing the leaflets and nanopamphlets that have been their hallmark for some time. Still, I wish them the best with their mission to continue raising the profile of experimental visual and formal poetry through book-length publications. In the meantime, I have a whole whack of nanopamphlets to give away, so make sure you ask for one if you run into me!

As always, happy reading. And happy seeing, too!

 

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Two poems in EVENT 47.3, and a note on writing “Non-binary”

Hi all,

Although I’m still waiting to receive my contributor copy of EVENT 47.3 in the mail, I’ve known it’s been out for about a week now, so I figured I’d post before the bulk of you had a chance to hold it in your hands. You’ve probably guessed the news already: two of my poems are featured in the issue, and I couldn’t be more excited! I’m in great company, too, especially with Annick MacAskill (who, apart from being a fabulous poet, reader, and workshopper, also shouted me out on Twitter earlier this week–thanks, Annick!). My sincere thanks go out to the EVENT editorial team for including my contributions (and for the photograph below).

 

 

While I’m excited to see the work in print, I’ve also wondered for some months whether I would, or should, write a note about writing “Non-binary” (which, along with “Object,” is one of the two poems published this month). There’s a lot to say–much more than I initially thought, actually–but I think it’s still worth keeping in mind that anything I have to say here should be purely subordinate to the poem and its effects on you and others.

It might make sense to begin by saying that, to me at least, “Non-binary” isn’t exclusively about non-binary gender identity. That the term has come to signify a way of identifying outside of a particular gender binary is noteworthy, I think, considering the many forms of non-binary thinking and acting highlighted by a variety of theoretical and practical outlooks, many of which are or have been important to me in my life. On this broad level, I trust that non-binary individuals and their allies also have some appreciation for the overlap in meanings. On the other hand, to the extent that the poem is about non-binary identity more narrowly defined, I don’t intend to implicate ‘non-binariness’ as a homogeneous category or even a single objective concept. I understand that, by its very nature, it means very different things to the many different individuals who live it or live alongside it.

In an important sense, “Non-binary” is very much about how I relate to non-binariness within a certain strain of my personal experience. Why did I write it? I think there are at least a few good reasons why I shouldn’t have; for example, it may be that my perspective simply isn’t relevant, or that by framing the topic according to my own experience as a cis-man I am contributing to the exclusion and marginalization of stakeholders whose voices need to be heard more urgently. I think I’m willing to take responsibility for either of those eventualities (or any others that may come up), and I hope my actions will make good on that promise if the situation demands it. I believe it is important for a writer to consider whether the publication of their work may cause harm, and to take responsibility when it does. However, I don’t think this should be the predominant consideration in the decision to write or publish–especially when the ostensibly safer option (i.e., to not publish at all, or to publish only within a conventionally acceptable range of themes and topics) could reflect and reinforce a complacency that is itself a form of harm.

Some of what I’ve written about non-binary identity may be a reactionary response to difference, and again, I think I can own that if it is the case. But I also think there are more nuanced and mixed-up emotions in the poem, including significant doses of envy and shame. I understand identity, at least as I experience it, as something both socially constructed and (to an extent) fluid. In saying that, I don’t mean to implicate an abstracted monolith of capital-S Society; rather, society for me is the particular matrix of people I find myself surrounded by–including individuals who are non-binary and those who truck with them. In this context, part of my response to seeing how other people represent themselves is to wonder how I might follow or might have followed their example more or less than I have. I have defined myself in relation to others, and by doing so differently, I might have opened different sets of doors to both my surroundings and my own wants and needs, in essence becoming a different person. This is of course a continuing process, but it is also one in which history (both personal and cultural) remains an enduring factor: I am whatever I become, but I am also my past. These (im)possibilities of perpetual (re)construction weigh on me when I reflect on the identities I’ve taken up and carried with me over time, as I have tried to do in “Non-binary.” Hopefully that reflection can help me change what needs to be changed, as well as inhabit more ethically what probably won’t change.

I’m not sure if EVENT‘s editors bargained for any of this when they decided to publish “Non-binary.” In fact, I don’t really know what they bargained for, considering how little the discourse around publishing addresses what our writing actually says about us (especially when that discourse is shared among folks with normative identities in relation to gender, sex, race, ability, etc.). Ultimately, I hope this note doesn’t seem like an attempt to cover my bases or preempt any criticisms that might be raised against “Non-binary” (honestly, I’m not entirely sure anyone even cares that much). What I really want is to talk about these topics more, because that discourse, I think, is valuable in itself.

 

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Emerging Arts Critics programme

Hi everyone,

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on something that’s become a significant part of my life this fall: for the past few months, I’ve been a part of the 2018/2019 iteration of the Emerging Arts Critics programme, which is co-administered by the National Ballet of Canada, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the Canadian Opera Company. The programme brings together eight emerging writers, sends us to the season’s performances of dance, opera, and classical music from each participating company, and throws us into writing reviews of one performance from each genre.

If you’ve talked with me over the past few months, you’ve probably heard that I’m having a blast with the programme. Aside from getting the chance to work with professional reviewers/mentors in various settings (workshops, one-on-one editing, etc.), I’ve also realized the incredible value of getting to talk about art with seven engaged and intelligent peers as that art is happening. Of course, the performances themselves have been fantastic, too.

Partly, I thought to write about the programme now because my contribution to its dance aspect, a review of the National Ballet of Canada’s The Dream and Being and Nothingness, was just published on The Dance Current‘s website last week (along with reviews by several of my EAC peers, which you can find here). In addition, my review of the Canadian Opera Company’s debut of Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian is set to appear in the upcoming print issue of Opera Canada, which I’ve been told will be released later this month.

Working on these pieces has taught me a great deal–not only about how to review two unique and (to me) unfamiliar performance genres (for which I’m incredibly thankful to the editors of both publications), but also about how to write about and across the arts in general. To me, critical writing is simply the best way to think, feel, and learn through a work of art, and discovering that this is the case as much with dance and opera as it is with other forms has been inspirational. With these experiences in my back pocket (along with my anticipation of reviewing the Toronto Symphony Orchestra this coming spring), I’m even more confident about the future contributions I can make to the arts through critical writing.

As always, happy reading–but also viewing, listening, and thinking!

 

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“The Leader’s Wrongness” in Juniper 2.2

Hi folks,

Some good news today: the newest issue of Juniper, which happens to contain my short poem “The Leader’s Wrongness,” has just been released online! Juniper is an online poetry journal that’s been going strong since its founding last year by Lisa Young, an old acquaintance of mine from my days at Existere, and I owe her considerable thanks for including my writing. I’m also excited to discover that issue 2.2 features work from some other great fellow poets, including Dane Swan and Sonia Di Placido. If you’d prefer to just skip forward to my contribution, though, you can read “The Leader’s Wrongness” here.

The first draft of this poem pretty much came out of nowhere, and it still throws me for a loop. Hopefully you enjoy the read. Meanwhile, I’ll be looking forward to diving into the rest of this issue’s inclusions…

As always, happy reading!

 

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the ratio of an earthworm

Hi all,

I hope everyone’s coming to terms with our descent into fall. I’m sill on a bit of a high after my reading at Shab-e She’r last week, and I wanted to take the chance to celebrate another event from last month.

Back at the beginning of September, artists/curators/friends Larissa Tiggelers and Patrick Cruz were generous enough to include some of my verse and visual poetry in their outdoor art exhibition and gathering, the ratio of an earthworm. The poems include “Exit,” one of the many I’ve written for my houseplants, and some visual pieces depicting my houseplants from above. It’s difficult to tell in the photographs, but these really look fantastic, especially insofar as they’ve been incorporated into the physical environment of the backyard. Being someone whose work is normally only reproduced on paper and computer screens, it blew me away to see my text integrated with the dimensions of concrete space and light.

Many thanks to Larissa for these photographs, and to Hiba Abdallah (another fabulous artist/friend) for helping with the installation!

 

 

 

Although I won’t post any more pictures here, I think it’s also worth highlighting how much I enjoyed the exhibition/gathering itself. To my understanding, Larissa and Patrick imagined the ratio of an earthworm as a chance for artists to show their work in a one-day, no-strings-attached celebration of creativity and community, without the hassle of dealing with the fine art institution. In this pursuit, they absolutely succeeded. Perhaps more importantly, though, I was overwhelmed by the experience of seeing everyone’s art (and there was a lot of it) in a garden setting that integrated each piece with the earth and plant life in its environs. Having that kind of aesthetic experience in a setting that differed intensely from the conventional white cube opened my eyes to the truly innumerable ways art can impact the mind and soul.

If any of this interests you, Larissa also produced an excellent exhibition text for the event that you should check out; you can find it on her website here. Hopefully, there will be more events like this in the months and years to come!

 

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Feature reading at Shab-e She’r on September 25th

Hello everyone,

I hope you’ve been having a great summer! Not too long ago, Bänoo Zan (incomparable poet, superstar organizer, and…well, if you’ve spent any time in the Toronto poetry scene, you know her already!) asked me if I’d like to feature at her monthly poetry night, Shab-e She’r, which happens to be one of my favourite open mics in the city. Fast-forward a few weeks, and the announcements have been made, the tweets have been retweeted, and the facebook event is live–in other words, it’s happening! I couldn’t be more delighted to be featuring alongside Jennifer Alicia at the event, and I really hope you’ll join me there.

Aside from the general quality of the work that graces Shab-e She’r’s stage, I find that the event’s diversity of styles and voices makes it an excellent window into the landscape of contemporary poetry. If you’d like to come listen (or even read a piece on the open mic!), you can catch it on Tuesday, September 25th–6:30pm for open mic sign-up, and 7:00pm for the show. The event costs $5, and you can check out the facebook event for more details. Also, note that the September reading will be held at the Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick Ave.), not the Church of St. Stephen in the Fields (which is a bit of a shame, since I love the church’s architecture and acoustics, but ultimately I think both are great venues).

Shab-e She’r prides itself on being “the most diverse poetry and open mic series in Toronto,” and while I suspect that folks like me don’t contribute very much to that boast, I’m hoping to reflect on the theme by sharing some work that tries to situate my ethnic and cultural identity. It’s tricky business, of course, so I’ll probably let the poems do most of the talking. But I have received some really encouraging feedback on recent work I’ve embarked on in this vein, so I couldn’t be more excited for the chance to present it to Shab-e She’r’s audience.

In any case, I’ll see you next month!

 

 

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